By Brian Witte,
The Associated Press
Maryland lawmakers got past their differences and reached a deal March 31on the state’s $62.5 billion budget that includes making major investments in prekindergarten through 12th grade education.
In one major highlight, they agreed to allocate $900 million for future costs to the state’s huge pre-K-12 education funding reform law known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a priority by the legislature that phases in larger amounts of funding in future years.
The differences between the General Assembly’s two chambers related to a proposal in Gov. Wes Moore’s initial budget plan. The governor first proposed allocating an additional $500 million for the blueprint, while setting aside $500 million for unspecified transportation projects.
The House shifted $400 million of the transportation funds to add to future blueprint funding, bringing the total additional blueprint money to $900 million. The Senate brought that down to $800 million for the blueprint to restore an extra $100 million back to transportation.
Budget negotiators from the House and Senate decided to keep the $900 million for future blueprint spending while enabling the governor to tap an extra $100 million from the rainy-day fund for transportation money, if needed, to match federal funds for future transportation projects.
The $900 million is in addition to $8.7 billion set aside for pre-K-12 funding in the next fiscal year.
In another highlight, the budget negotiators reached a compromise on funding for a scholarship program known as BOOST, which stands for Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today. It enables children from low-income families to attend private schools.
The governor and the House had reduced the program’s funding from $10 million to $8 million, while the Senate moved to not cut the program. Lawmakers ended up setting aside $9 million for the program, and added $2.5 million more for schools that participate in it.
The state budget for the next fiscal year still needs technical final votes by the legislature before adjournment at midnight April 10. The General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, was not far apart in the budget plans initially approved by the two houses.